Key Matchup: D-line vs. displaced line

The Vikings have a chance to take advantage of offensive linemen playing out of position, and Minnesota's top two pass rushers have to be looking longingly at the opportunity.


It's amazing how one injury in the NFL can affect far more than just one position. As the Packers enter Monday's game against the Vikings with the prospect of being without left tackle Chad Clifton, his injury has affected four players and three positions, making the potentially revamped Packers O-line and their battle with Jared Allen and Kevin Williams this week's Matchup to Watch.

When Clifton went down with an ankle injury, the Packers offense suffered. Through three games, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 12 times and has 15 rushing attempts, most of those the result of being flushed out of the pocket to avoid even more sacks. Rodgers has been running for his life and the Vikings will be looking to force him to do more of the same with a revamped offensive line that has three players that are out of position as a result of Clifton's injury.

Left guard Daryn Colledge has replaced Clifton at left tackle, center Jason Spitz has slid down the line to left guard and backup Scott Wells has taken over at center. With just one injury, three offensive linemen will be playing positions Monday that they weren't playing in Week 2.

The problems related to Clifton's injury have already been evident. Against the Bengals, defensive end Antwan Odom recorded five sacks against Rodgers and was relentless in a 31-24 Cincinnati upset win at Lambeau Field. The Vikings will be looking to take advantage of the unfamiliarity of the new-look Packers offensive line with a pair of sack artists of their own.

Allen made an immediate impact for the Vikings when he came over via trade from Kansas City. In his first season in Minnesota, he recorded 14.5 sacks, the most by a Viking in more than a decade. Williams is recognized as one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league and has made his name for taking advantage of matchups like this, where players are out of their comfort zone from their natural position and forced into a new spot with new responsibilities.

While the Packers hope Clifton will return to action soon, the team has been preparing all week without him, meaning that it is likely, simply for the sake of continuity, that the team will keep the lineup as-is and not force all three players to switch back to their initial positions. That likely won't happen until Clifton can return to practice. Even if Clifton does play, you can imagine Allen would be licking his chops. Clifton has done a nice job of containing Allen (see last year's season-opening win by Green Bay in which Allen was all but invisible most of the game), but handling Allen's speed rush and varied power moves are difficult enough when a player is healthy – much less with a bad wheel.

Most successful teams can point to having an offensive line that starts all 16 games as a unit. Most Super Bowl teams have such continuity along the offensive front. The Packers don't and this could potentially be a mismatch in which Allen and Williams get the chance to make big plays, pressure Rodgers and help create turnovers the Packers don't often make. With the potential to have a field day against a revamped, out-of-place offensive line, their battles with Allen and Williams will be a critical matchup to watch.

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